How the floods of 2015 turned one plumber into a homeswear designer

Dave Mattock pictured with his creative lights at Pipe Creative
Dave Mattock pictured with his creative lights at Pipe Creative

Plumber Dave Mattock had an untapped talent but it took a major flood to flush it out. Sharon Dale reports. Pictures by Simon Hulme and Jody Clarke.

Visitors often ask about the black parallel lines painted on the wall of Dave Mattock’s shop in Hebden Bridge. The lowest is labelled 2012 and the highest, which is just under five feet, reads 2015.

They mark the height of the flash floods that wrecked his premises and submerged his stock in a stinking mix of sludge and sewage.

The top line also represents a remarkable reincarnation. For while many livelihoods across the Calder Valley were washed away in the Boxing Day disaster two years ago, the flood flushed out an untapped talent that has turned Dave from a full-time plumber into a celebrated designer maker.

He now uses the tools of his former trade to make startlingly original lighting and homeware featuring pipes and vintage metal objects.

“That last flood was the turning point. It gave me a chance to think about what to do with the shop. It was an office for my plumbing firm and we sold bathroom suites, but sales had slowed.

People would come in, get the details of the items on display and then buy them cheaper off the internet,” says Dave, 62, who decided to reinvent the business.

“I’d already made a few candelabras from copper piping after seeing something similar when I was on holiday in Canada. They sold well so I decided to go down that route.”

Within just eight weeks of the water receding, he had transformed the old shop on Market Street into Pipe Creative.

“I did it with help from my family. I didn’t have any insurance because it was impossible to get after the 2012 floods,” says Dave, who still can’t articulate why he thought he could build a business around what had been a small sideline in candlesticks.

He admits that there was no real plan or even any meaningful discussion with his wife and six children about his change of direction. “I just did it and hoped for the best,” he says.

Half of the old shop is now home to his workbench and tools while the other half is a showroom displaying his wares, most of which he sells at the weekend to day trippers.

“I’d never designed anything in my life before but now I like it better than plumbing and I still use my plumbing skills, like soldering, threading and wiring,” says Dave, who has also tried his hand at pig farming and still has a separate company dealing with outdoor plumbing that is staffed by two employees.

The designs start with function and balance in mind, rather than style. His method is trial and error rather than technical drawings and computer-aided design but it’s the Caractacus Potts-style approach that makes his pipe products so appealing. He has also developed a penchant for pressure gauges.

“They look like little hands,” he says, pointing to a lamp that features a pair of tiny gauges sat side by side.

He puts them on “for fancy”, although he has taken the idea a stage further with the shop’s grand centrepiece. It’s an imposing conglomeration of steel pipes, a huge brass tap from an old factory, an enormous bulb and a large pressure gauge that Dave has fitted with a clock mechanism, so it tells the time. “It was crying out for one and it makes the lamp double useful,” he says.

He also loves vintage blow torches and after buying a job lot from a collector in London, he now has a good supply. Instead of spouting flames, they are fitted with filament bulbs.

After someone brought in an old Singer sewing machine in and asked if he wanted to buy it as a display item, he wired it up, added a bulb and a couple of pressure gauges and it sold at once. He’s since added a variety of converted Singers to his collection.

Old meat mincers were also an obvious choice, he says, because they are flat and level underneath. “We have one at home and I looked at it one day and thought ‘that will make a nice light’.”

He was right. They sell for £70 each and are undoubtedly original, as are the old petrol cans, possers, watering cans and copper hot water bottles that now have a new life as decorative lamps.

Dave also works on commissions, usually from people who call in with a metal object that they want converting into something. He’s about to turn part of a steel oil drum into a standard lamp and a copper fire extinguisher into a light.

“I rarely make any two items the same and that’s one of the things I love about the job. It’s different every day. Even better, people can’t go on the internet and buy them there, like they did with the bathroom suites I used to sell,” says Dave, who has just put the finishing touches to a copper pipe bird feeder, a coat rack and colander pendant light.

The elegant copper pipe candlesticks and candelabra are his bestsellers and for good reason. They start at a reasonable £20, or what he refers to as “birthday present prices”, and have universal appeal, fitting easily into any style of decor.

Dave’s more outré designs undoubtedly tie in with the trend for industrial-style interiors, though he isn’t fearful about the fickle nature of fashion and has no intention of selling via his website, even though he knows he could treble his prices if he could reach the lucrative London market.

“To me they are talking points and I enjoy making them and that is thanks to that last flood.If it hadn’t happened I’d probably still be sitting here selling one bathroom suite a month.”

Pipe Creative is at 54A Market Street, Hebden Bridge, pipecreative.co.uk